About the project

What does it mean to say that someone is ‘incapacitated’ – that is, they are not in paid work because of their ill-health or disability?

This is no idle theoretical question; there are over half a million incapacity tests (known as the Work Capability Assessment, or ‘WCA’) every year that determine whether people receive benefits, and nearly everyone (from government to doctors to charities to disabled people themselves) seems to think that these tests are working badly.

The ‘Rethinking Incapacity’ project aims to help policymakers create a better system of incapacity assessment – not just tinkering around the edges of the current system, but going back to think about what ‘incapacity’ actually means, and building up a fair and workable system from there. It looks at incapacity in the real-world, accepting that some people with functional impairment will find it more difficult than others to find or keep a job that they can do, based on their age, education, skills and experience.

The project involves four strands:

  1. International comparisons, of how incapacity assessment works in other countries;
  2. Perceived legitimacy: a new survey and series of deliberative workshops to look at what people think a fair test looks like;
  3. Better data, so that we get figures we can trust about the employment rate of disabled people across time and place;
  4. Unequal incapacity: new research into how non-medical factors in incapacity actually affect people in practice.

The team

The project is led by Ben Baumberg Geiger, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent. You can find out more about Ben’s other work on disability at http://www.benbaumberg.com/disability.html . And if you are interested in chatting about any aspect of the project then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Ben via the ‘Contact Us’ tab of this website.

Several parts of the work are done collaboratively with others. This includes:

  • Claudia Wood and others at the think-tank Demos, who are particularly involved in looking at the perceived legitimacy of different tests;
  • Professor Clare Bambra and her colleagues (including Kayleigh Garthwaite and Jon Warren) at Durham University, linking to their Leverhulme-funded project on the effects of austerity and welfare reform on health inequalities – see https://www.dur.ac.uk/health.inequalities/;
  • A wide-ranging advisory group (for further details, see the ‘News’ tab of this site).

Rethinking Incapacity is funded by a three year research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, grant ES/K009583/1).